The Woodward News

August 29, 2013

Vandals, burglars strike businesses

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Several local businesses received hundreds of dollars in damage after being hit in a recent string of vandalisms and burglaries.

The businesses include a number of restaurants as well as other stores including a hardware store and grocery store.

The News spoke with the owners of JB's Steakhouse, Ramiro's Mexican Restaurant and Dairy Queen about these recent events.

Kenny Vassar, owner of Dairy Queen, said that overnight on Aug. 19 a trio of male subjects were seen damaging the metal tables and chairs on the patio in front of his restaurant as well as damaging trash cans at Dairy Queen and elsewhere along Main St.

"What they done was tore up one of my trash cans which is concrete with the Dairy Queen logo on it.  Then they tipped the table and chairs over and bent the legs on them and kicked the seats out of the chairs," Vassar said.

He said the damage to those items "probably cost close to $1,000."

"I'm just surprised with the way it seems like they were tossing things around that none of it went through one of my windows," Vassar said.

There was no damage to the inside of the Dairy Queen and no evidence of the vandals attempting to steal anything from the store, he said.

Chris Riffel, of JB's Steakhouse, said his business was burglarized around 3:45 a.m. on Aug. 20.  He said the burglar began by cutting the restaurant's phone lines and then proceeded to "jimmy in the back door, which was dead bolted even."

Once inside the kitchen area, Riffel said the store's security cameras picked up the burglar's activities as he first tried to disable one camera and then proceeded to go through the restaurant "looking for money."

"The only cash we had here was $1 that was left on a desk," he said.

After swiping the dollar bill, Riffel said the subject is seen damaging 2 computers.  He said he believes the burglar did this in an attempt to "strip the hard drives to our computers, thinking he was destroying our security camera footage."

However, the camera recordings remained in tact for Riffel to later share with the police.

Altogether from the "2 computers that were torn apart" to having to replace the oversized metal door in the back, which was "a $600 to $800 door,"  to repairing the cut phone lines, Riffel said the burglar caused "probably over $2,000 in damages."

Ramiro Gutierrez, owner of Ramiro's Mexican Restaurant, said the damage was less extensive at his restaurant and that's one thing he is thankful for.

Gutierrez said he learned of the burglary when "we got a police call at about 2 in the morning" on Tuesday after the alarm at his restaurant was set off.

In reviewing the footage from his own security cameras, Gutierrez said he learned that the burglar first switched off the breakers to his walk-in cooler in the back of the restaurant, possibly believing the breakers to be instead connected to the security system.

After shutting off the cooler, he said the burglar broke a back window to gain entry to the restaurant, he then stole the restaurant's cash register.

During the burglary, Gutierrez said the subject also damaged a security sensor on one of the doors at the restaurant.  Between $200 to $300 for the broken window, another $300 for the register and an additional $300 to $400 to repair the alarm system, he said the burglar caused "for all the damages, about $1,000 altogether."

However, he said the would-be thief could have done much more.

"I was worried he broke other things around my place because I've worked so hard over the years to get it the way I have it," Gutierrez said of the many special decorations and renovations he has made to the restaurant to give it a unique and colorful atmosphere.

Other businesses reporting damage from recent burglaries, attempted burglaries and/or vandalisms, according to Woodward Police Department call logs, included China King which had a window busted out on Aug. 21; and Maraca's Mexican Restaurant and Locke Supply which each had a window broken out on Tuesday morning.  The call logs also list an alarm at Westgate United Supermarket and even a broken window at the Faith United Methodist Church.



SUSPECTS GET LITTLE CASH, BUT TAKE SOMETHING MORE VALUABLE

At least from the JB's, Ramiro's and Dairy Queen incidents, the suspects seemed to have gone through a lot of effort for not much gain.

"It's upsetting that we get so much damage over so little money," Riffel said.

In addition to the $1 in cash stolen from JB's, Riffel said the only other items the burglar left with from his restaurant were an MP3 player and a hoodie sweatshirt.  He believes the sweatshirt was only taken in an attempt by the burglar to conceal his identity from the security cameras.

At Ramiro's, Gutierrez said the burglar left with even less.  While the male subject was successful in breaking open the drawer on cash register, Gutierrez said there had been no money inside for the subject to steal.

Both Ramiro's and JB's are usually closed for business on Mondays and both were broken into in the early morning hours on a Tuesday.

While nothing tangible may have been stolen from Vassar's store, he said something was still taken from him.  It was also taken from other business owners, even those who weren't vandalized or burglarized themselves, he said.

What they stole, Vassar said, was the feeling of safety.

"The bad part is that they took security away from people," he said.  "People around here felt like we were pretty secure and they stole that away.  Now people in businesses here are concerned they're going to walk out their front door or back door and get robbed."

Or they're afraid they will go home at night just to return to work the next day and find they were broken into, he said.

Vassar said he finds it difficult to leave his store unguarded overnight, especially after also recently finding damage to his back door where it appeared someone tried to break it in but were unable to get past the deadbolts.

"I may be up here at 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m. and drive by just to make sure someone has not kicked in the door," he said.  "Then when I go home, I worry 'have they hit my house?'"



VIDEO SHOWS SUSPECT'S FACE

Some of the restaurant owners seemed concerned that there is not much that law enforcement can do about the problem.

Both Gutierrez and Vassar said they are afraid that prosecutors won't give those responsible much beyond "a slap on the hand."

Vassar said that even though officers were able to stop the 3 suspects from the vandalism at his restaurant just moments after it was reported on Aug. 19, "it is now up to the DA to file charges."

"But I have a feeling we'll have a hard time getting anything prosecuted," he said, noting he doesn't feel much concern is given to crimes like vandalism by the District Attorney's office.

"If you write a bogus check you have more of a chance getting prosecuted once you get caught than you do for vandalism," he said.

However, he feels that only proper prosecution will curtail these types of vandalisms and burglaries.

"Until we have prosecution and these subjects are made to pay for what they broke and damaged, then they're just going to keep doing it," Vassar said.

But even if they are prosecuted and made to spend time in jail, Gutierrez said he doesn't believe that will stop the crimes.

"They can't keep them in jail forever, they will let them out eventually," he said.

Then he said the subject would just have the opportunity to do it again.

So instead, Gutierrez's solution is for the community to take a stand and let the person responsible know he is no longer welcome in Woodward.

That's why he said he had a friend post some of the security video footage from Tuesday's burglary of Ramiro's online through Facebook.

The video has been shared hundreds of times, but one link is available through the Woodward Pride Facebook page.

The video shows a shot of the suspect's face after he is seen using a chair or stool to access the breaker panel near the walk-in cooler at Ramiro's.

"I want to make sure everybody knows his face so he won't be comfortable here any more," Gutierrez said.  "Let's show people who he is and tell them don't trust him, even if you see him in Wal-Mart, and let's try to keep him away from Woodward."